What’s that, Nationals? Excuse me, Mike Rizzo? I could have sworn you said you’re team was better than the Atlanta Braves. One year after Danny Espinosa and Stephen Strasburg strutted their peacock feathers about how great the Nationals would be, then promptly soiled themselves, Rizzo is saying the same thing again. As if the more he says it, the more true it will be.
Here’s what I see right now: Going into Sunday’s finale, Gio Gonzalez is toeing the rubber for the Nats, having given up only one run so far this season. After the game, he’s given up six, five of them earned. I thought I was watching extended batting practice, with almost everyone getting in on the fun. Now, ESPN is suddenly backpedaling on their sworn testimony that the Nats basically have already won the NL East.
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A couple injuries and suddenly the trip looks a little tougher? Us Braves fans? We know. Anyway, here’s what I saw on this homestand.
Justin Upton: I don’t know if he’s been giving Jobu his rum or he finally got tired of the Upton family name being dishonored, but there is a serious fire burning under Justin’s ass right now. He’s hotter than Lady Gaga covered in green barf. Through his first eight games, he was batting a measly .200 with a mere six hits. Since then, he has 11 hits in four games, with four home runs so far.
B.J. Upton: I won’t say much about him, in fear of absolutely jinxing him, but it seems like Chipper Jones’ visit to the ballpark on Thursday was just what Bossman Jr. needed. His spring training swing hasn’t been doing much to change his luck, but apparently Chipper needed just a couple minutes to point out some trouble spots, and now he’s tacked on a triple, a homer, and Sunday he caused havoc on the base paths. That, or his being benched for a lackluster play against the Mets last Wednesday knocked him out of his funk. Either way, maybe you can teach an old dog some new tricks.
Ervin Santana: Made his much anticipated debut since joining the Braves at the top of the rotation. I guess you could say he did alright. He threw 88 pitches, 65 for strikes, over eight scoreless innings and only gave up three hits. Here’s a little trivia nugget: his real name is Johan, but he changed it so he wouldn’t be confused with the Mets hurler. Tough noogies, Ervin. Anyone who saw you throw could easily confuse your utter dominance with the Cy Young winner.
Freddie Freeman: Here’s the first thing I’ll say about Huggie Bear: He’s batting .442. Here’s something else: He has four home runs, 10 RBI and he’s slugging over .700. Maybe the Braves should give away WWFFD bracelets at the next home game. And then everyone should do exactly what he does. After a home game this week, Freeman went to Chipper’s house to hang out and told him that no one can get him out! I’m not arguing.
Evan Gattis: It must have been a cold winter for El Oso Blanco, considering how long it’s taking him to warm up. But Saturday’s 3-for-4 performance with a double and RBI might be the kind of game that wakes the bear from hibernation. As long as he can lay off the outside pitch that has become his kryptonite, I would expect him to be the major offensive piece we all know and love.
Aaron Harang: There weren’t high expectations for A-A-Ron, also known as the Harangatan, when he joined the Braves’ rotation. Fair or not, he was a scrap-heap acquisition. But as Etsy has proved over the past few years, you really can take junk and make it into something useful and pretty again! He won’t be winning any beauty contests anytime soon, but Harang will have a beautiful record if he continues to throw six plus innings with one or fewer runs every time he steps on the mound.
Jason Heyward: The J-Hey kid is not swinging the bat like he wants to. He’s certainly not swinging it like Braves Country wants him to. Truth be told, he’s really only had two good games so far this season, but one of those was backing Santana’s first game. Heyward went 3-for-4 with a homer and two RBI, and really looked like the leadoff hitter who couldn’t stay off the bases last August. He’ll turn it around at some point, hopefully sooner than later.
Craig Kimbrel: The flamethrower tossed another 2.2 innings this last week, adding another two saves and six strikeouts to his impressive start to the year. His control has varied some, and there have been a couple of scares in his appearances, but Kimbrel still controls the game when he comes running in from right field. He’s up to five saves and is right on John Smoltz’s heels for most saves in Braves history. At this rate, it won’t take long.
Once again, there was serious concern in Braves Country after they dropped the home opener to the Mets in a shutout. I was at that game. Things got ugly. But even though they lost the series against the Mets, they bounced back against the Nats, sweeping them out of Atlanta. And in the meantime, it looks like the offense may have caught up to the strong pitching that’s been on display this year. In fact, after scoring 15 runs through their first six games, they put up 23 during their series versus the Nats.
All in all, this could be the start of something good.